Happy Trees: Painting on the Wii


Bob Ross is one of the most recognizable artists in America, and certainly the most-televised. With his happy demeanor and easy-to-understand instruction style, he’d seem to be the perfect choice of artist after which to model an instructional video game.

In the course of writing the feature article “The Definition of an Art Form” for this week’s The Escapist, I had a chance to ask game artist John Enricco, of Pandemic Studios and Mike Krahulik (better known as “Gabe”) from Penny Arcade, what they though of the idea.

“Awesome idea!” says Krahulik. “Who wouldn’t want to paint some happy little trees with the Wii remote?”

“I think it’s a great idea,” said John Enricco, whose own artistic instruction was augmented by a Koala Pad connected to Commodore 64 his parents bought for him when he was a boy. “The more creative tools you put into the hands of everyone that you can reach, the better chance ‘the arts’ will be appreciated by more and more people. People will have a great time learning something new and having fun. Even though the majority of any output would be mediocre (just by the law of averages) you could be nurturing the next future Picasso for our genre.”

The following is a transcript of my recent interview with Joseph Hatcher, developer of The Joy of Painting for the Ninetdo Wii.


The Escapist: I have to be honest, I’d never expected to see a videogame based on Bob Ross or The Joy of Painting. Can you explain how this project came to be?

Joseph Hatcher: In Jan 2006 or so saw Bob Ross on TV and started checking out more Wii (formerly code named Revolution) stuff and it hit me that the wiimote (the main TV remote-looking device) would be perfect for the game. At the time, I also wanted there to be a Nintendo DS and PC version of the game as well. So eventually in Mar 2006, I contacted Bob Ross Inc. about wanting the license to make games based on Bob Ross’ painting style. We came to an agreement and it’s been on a roll ever since.

TE: I know myself and a lot of others enjoyed watching Bob Ross on TV because of how … well … happy he seemed to be and how easy he made it look. What is it about The Joy of Painting that you think makes for a great game?

JH: Bob is easy to listen to, easy to watch, fun to watch, and if you so desire, you can follow along and paint with him. That same feeling you get from his TV show we aim to implement into the game. So it’s easy to play, easy to learn, and it’ll keep you coming back for more fun, or to just be creative.

TE: Will Bob be in the game?

JH: In one way or another, yes. Of course his voice will be, we’re still hamering out the details on how else he’ll be in the game. We have access to over 350 hours of TV shows!

TE: Was he really that happy?

JH: According to the Bob Ross Inc. represenatives, yes, he was always that happy. He got to paint, take care of animals and enjoy life. I wish my life was that easy sometimes.

TE: The fun thing about computers and videogames is that if you make a mistake, or “happy accident,” you can go back, undo your mistake and try again. Will there be a “happy undo” button in this game?

JH: Just like in Bob’s paintings, you can always go back and fix something, scrape a section off, and paint it again. We’re examining the possibilities.

TE: Maybe instead of joking around, this would be a good place to talk about the game itself. The game will be released for the Nintendo DS and Wii, correct? How will it use the touch-pad and Wiimote?

JH: The Bob Ross Game is exclusively for the Nintendo Wii. As of this interview, we are not yet signed to a publisher, but are really close. The publishers we are talking to are very interested in how we want to simulate painting like Bob Ross and the potential to attract so many new gamers to the game industry. The wiimote will be used just as if you were moving a paint brush doing one of Bob Ross’ movements for his paintings. The same movements you seem him do on TV, we are doing our best to see what the wiimote can do to match them.

TE: Will it be possible for a player to actually become a better painter by playing the game?

JH: Painting with a wiimote on a virtual canvas that you can’t really touch is totally different from painting on a real canvas. So while the user may be able to eventually make outstanding paintings on the Wii game, they may not do that well on a real painting. Although the user will have a greater understanding and head start over someone totally new to the Bob Ross style of painting, I think it’ll help alot, but isn’t the same.

TE: Will there be any way to distribute the paintings you make in the game? If so, can you imagine people selling them or trading them? Using them as desktop wallpapers?

JH: We plan to include the feature for the user to save their creations to an SD card, and then take them to a print shop, put them on their PC and either print or email them, print them off a self-contained photo printer, however they wish to share their media.

TE: Is the objective to teach painting, have fun or both?

JH: The objective is to play, learn, share your creations and of course have lots of fun!

TE: When can we expect this game?

JH: As soon as we can get it done and make sure it’s easy to enjoy and get into, fun, replayable, and as bug free as possible.

(For more of this interview, and to read what Hatcher and artists John Enricco and Mike Krahulik think about videogames as an art form, please read “The Definition of an Art Form” in Issue 67 of The Escapist.)

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